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Innovative Educator: Hands-on learning leads to high-level thinking for Boise students

Brandon Hampton's junior-high pre-engineering students are building hot-air balloons, sturdy bridges and really fast cars.

BOISE, Idaho — Editor's note: This content is sponsored by CapEd Credit Union.

It's common to see the kids in Brandon Hampton's pre-engineering class at Les Bois Junior High in Boise racing mouse trap cars.

"Students are given a single mouse trap, and they have to design, build and test a vehicle that's powered by that mouse trap that goes the furthest distance through the length of our halls," Hampton said.

Or flying mini hot air balloons they made of tissue paper.

"A lot of our students have grown up here with the Boise Balloon Festival, so it allows us to tie in to that geography of why that happens here in Boise," Hampton said. "We talk about the box winds and the wind patterns we have."

Credit: Courtesy Brandon Hampton

Or seeing how much weight their balsa wood bridges can support.

"Then the bridges, of course, break in grand fashion because they're supporting between 20 and 40 pounds of sand and they shatter and the kids hoot and holler," Hampton said.

Credit: Courtesy Brandon Hampton

Hampton said the physics behind the projects is complex and hard to understand in a pencil-and-paper setting.

"But when you actually apply those skills in a hands on environment it really becomes easy for the students to understand the laws of motion and kinetic and potential energy and a lot of those high-level concepts are instilled in those builds in those units," Hampton said.

He said making engineering and physics fun builds energy and excitement in the students, too. They really get into it.

"Which I love," Hampton said. "I love to see the passion and spend my time with students who are genuinely interested in learning."

The students also get to use tools and equipment including drill presses, 3-D printers and laser cutters, which Hampton believes could spark an interest in a future career. He hopes it all leads students to become life-long learners and life-long problem solvers.

"Our focus is to create students who can leave our building and leave the Boise School District and be successful in the community and on the worldwide stage," Hampton said.

If you would like to nominate an Innovative Educator who is going above and beyond, send us an email to innovativeeducator@ktvb.com.

Educators, for information on submitting an application for a classroom grant through the Idaho CapEd Foundation, visit www.capedfoundation.org.

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